Sramana: Essentially, you positioned yourself as an expert voice over a certain class of products, and your priority was to build trust with consumers. Did you find that consumers were willing to trust you?
Mercia Tapping: Consumers have always trusted our opinion and the strength of our evaluation. We actually find that other e-commerce stores will write things like “rated 5 stars by Allergy Buyers Club” in their product description to help them sell the product. They use our evaluations to help sell a product. Our reputation has built well over time.
Sramana: How did you acquire customers and manufacturers in the early days?
Mercia Tapping: It was interesting. On the manufacturing side, there were some manufacturers that were willing to take a chance given what my vision was. They were not willing to give me any credit, so I bought inventory on credit cards, and items would be drop-shipped because I could not afford a warehouse. At least they were willing to give me a try. I did not have very much, but in 2000, there was not the same level of competition there is today. Some big companies took me on in 2000. When you have a few household brand names, it is easier to acquire the rest.
Sramana: How much money did you put into purchasing inventory?
Mercia Tapping: At that time I was doing what every entrepreneur does. I started out in the basement of my house. I added employees as soon as I could afford it. It was hilarious when you look back on it, but we practiced just- in-time inventory on the products where we had to carry inventory. Whenever possible we used drop shipping. Otherwise, the UPS truck would arrive in the morning and drop the product off, and I would ship it out that same day.
At any given time, we had maybe $25,000 of inventory. We turned it over very quickly. We took only products we knew we already had an order for.
Sramana: How did you acquire customers? What was your process?
Mercia Tapping: I acquired customers through search engine marketing. I just looked at the Internet and did an analysis of the consistent variables of top-ranked websites. I figured out what it was going to take to move my Web pages further up to page one of Google and Yahoo! long before there were manuals and experts writing about proper methods. I managed to do that in a short amount of time.
Sramana: Were you doing that on a product-by-product basis?
Mercia Tapping: Yes. I did all the things that experts now write and tell you that you should do. I just figured it out for myself.
Sramana: What categories did you pursue in the very beginning?
Mercia Tapping: Air purifiers, hepa vacuum cleaners, steam cleaners, dehumidifiers, and humidifiers. On the site, we have also always had hypoallergenic bedding with things like dust mite casings.